People eligible for an autumn Covid booster have been reassured they will “not get second-rate vaccines” as it emerged that more than half will miss out on the new dual-strain jab.
On Monday, the UK became the first country in the world to approve Moderna’s bivalent vaccine, which targets both the original strain of the virus and the Omicron variant, but the country does not have enough doses to offer it to all.
Some 29 million people will be invited to come forward for a booster from September, including people aged over 50 and the clinically vulnerable, but it’s been reported that only 13 million doses of Moderna’s new jabs will be available this year.
The government is “quite confident” that it’ll be able to begin rolling out the bivalent jab “throughout the next few weeks”, according to vaccines minister Maggie Throup, while Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said those eligible should not worry about what type of vaccine they will receive.
“The key point is that people need to get vaccinated rather than worrying too much about the type of vaccine that they’re receiving,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“These are all very good vaccines, which have proven efficacy against severe disease – that’s hospitalisation and death.
“The whole basis of the programme is to target those vulnerable people for a booster to keep their immunity topped up for protection against severe disease.
“So the message really is get vaccinated with your booster and don’t worry too much about the type of vaccine that you’re getting.
“But for simplicity’s sake, we’ll be trying to use one vaccine and we believe that this bivalent vaccine is potentially a very good vaccine and so we’ll be using that in the first instance.”
He said those eligible for the autumn booster programme “would not get second-rate vaccines”, adding: “They’re all very good vaccines.
“Both the Pfizer and Moderna original strain vaccines are available.
“There may well be other vaccines in the pipeline – Pfizer, I believe, are developing a bivalent vaccine which we’ll look at very carefully on JCVI if it's approved.
“And of course, the government may order, or may have ordered, some more bivalent Moderna vaccines so that there’s going to be a suite of vaccines which are available to use.”
A number of vaccines are set to be used for the coming autumn programme, including the bivalent jab, the original Pfizer and Moderna shots, which have been safely administered to tens of millions of Britons throughout the pandemic, as well as the Novavax vaccine.
Moderna’s latest vaccine, named Spikevax, was approved by the UK medicines regulator the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Its decision was based on clinical trial data that showed the booster triggered “a strong immune response” against both Omicron and the original virus that emerged in Wuhan in 2019, it said.
In June, Moderna said trial data showed that when given as a fourth dose, the variant-adapted shot raised virus-neutralising antibodies eight-fold against Omicron.
The MHRA also cited an exploratory analysis in which the vaccine was found to generate a good immune response against the dominant Omicron offshoots BA.4 and BA.5. No serious safety concerns were identified with the new formulation, the agency added.
Earlier this summer, health officials announced that all people aged 50 and over are to be offered a Covid-19 booster and flu jab.
Roughly 29 million Britons will be eligible, with over-75s and the most vulnerable expected to start receiving their doses from September, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Under guidance outlined by the JCVI, all frontline health and social care workers will be offered another booster jab, as will those aged 5 to 49 who are deemed clinically at-risk, including pregnant women, and household contacts of people with compromised immune systems.
For people aged 75 and over, this will be their fifth Covid jab, having already received a spring booster. For the over-50s, it will be the fourth dose.
The JCVI has said it will review the use of any additional vaccines which are redesigned to target multiple forms of the Covid virus.
NHS England is set to confirm details on how and when eligible people can access the autumn booster vaccine in due course.